Conor McGrath hoping Clare are ready to hit the ground running
Beating Cork to reach the Munster final the first seasonal goal of Davy Fitzgerald’s side
Conor McGrath: “Last year we were beaten once by them, there was a draw, and we beat them. So we are very evenly matched.” Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
At least Conor McGrath doesn’t pretend things haven’t changed. Because one year on, Clare face Cork in another Munster hurling semi-final with the weight of expectation turned upside down and inside out.
Then, Cork ran out eight-point winners, McGrath himself limited to two points – and replaced before the end by some youngster named Shane O’Donnell.
Later, in the All-Ireland final, they drew the first day, before Clare won the replay – McGrath scoring one of the pivotal goals, and ending the season as an All Star corner forward.
So now, as All-Ireland champions, Clare come to Thurles as the flashing red light on the radar. And even though Cork’s form has already been proven with last Sunday’s quarter-final replay win over Waterford, the expectation is Clare should pick up exactly where they left off.
Competitive hurlingFor McGrath, there’s no denying that, even though they’ve been idle from competitive hurling since exiting the league in the play-off against Tipperary.
“Yeah things are majorly different,” says McGrath. “There’s no point in saying otherwise. This time last year, I don’t think anyone was thinking of us. We weren’t really thinking of us, either. We were just trying to win a match in a Munster championship for the first time in a number of years.
“We were back training a bit later this year, too, but we were happy enough with how the league went. The fact we didn’t get to a Munster final last year makes getting there a big goal this time. Because we do want to go the direct route. The obvious difference as well is that you know you have an All-Ireland medal there.
“But we are still trying as hard as we were last year, and putting in the same amount of effort to get back to the same place. You see the intensity that Kilkenny come back with every year, and they’ve won plenty of All-Irelands. It remains to be seen if we can bring the same intensity that we brought last year, and I think we will need even more than that if we are to do it again this year. We’re not putting pressure on ourselves to win it, but obviously it would be nice to win another one.”
McGrath points to other more subtle changes, such as veteran player Fergal Lynch joining manager Davy Fitzgerald’s backroom team.
That, says McGrath, has helped add another dimension to Clare’s tactical nuance.
“He’s been brilliant. He played with us for the last number of years and at this stage he knows what we need. He’s seen both sides of it. I think he’s helped a lot in our forward play. Any issues the management and players have, he’s a good link between both.”
Conveyor beltClare also look to have strengthened their panel this year with the addition of players such as Jack Browne, Paul Flanagan and David Reidy, while the successful under-21 conveyor belt continues. Still, they might have preferred to meet Cork again somewhere a little further down the line, rather than start their All-Ireland defence against the Rebels.
“Last year, we were beaten once by them, there was a draw, and we beat them. So we are very evenly matched, and we wouldn’t be too worried about whether we meet Cork in the first round or whatever,” said the Cratloe clubman.
“Although we certainly wouldn’t like to lose the Munster semi-final again this year. If possible, we’d like to get to a Munster final, and see what would happen there,”